Crime Prevention and Offender Treatment

This essay will discuss and critically evaluate methods used by psychologists in environmental crime prevention and offender treatment programs. One theory of how the environment could both prevent or encourage crime came to our understanding through architectural journalist Jane Jacobs (1961) when she identified a relationship between the design of the urban environment and criminal activity believed that these older urban developments had a steady community spirit in place which acted as a form of surveillance against street crime as people knew each other and recognised outsiders more easily but these older urban developments also had unsafe places where criminals could carry out their deviant trades without fear of apprehension.

Jacobs further identified that whilst the older urban developments encouraged community spirit the newer urban developments encouraged a fortress spirit and communication between neighbours was more limited. She pointed out that the new forms of urban design broke down many of the traditional controls on criminal behavior, for example, the ability of residents to watch the street and the presence of people using the street both night and day, she suggested that this lack of natural guardianship in the environment promoted crime. Jacobs believed that crime flourishes when people do not meaningfully interact with their neighbors. These findings lead Jacobs recommend the three attributes needed to make a city street safe: a clear demarcation of private and public space; all buildings should face the street as this encourages natural surveillance and semi public spaces should be provided close to buildings as this too encourages natural surveillance.

Jacobs (1961) recognised that it was not feasible to blame the reason for urban crime on the design of the buildings in the environment and that other factors such as poverty, social inequality and boredom should also be tackled in order to reduce the crime rates substantially. Jacobs work can be praised immensly as it opened eyes and made people think about why certain crimes occur more in certain areas and in turn this has contributed greatly to the work of architects and councils when building new areas. Jacobs work is not without its flaws and other researchers have found that the increased street activity found in these older communities increases street crime rates because it affords more opportunities for crime to take place.

Newman (1972) agreed with the basis of Jacobs ideas but furthered her theory and created what he called his "Defensible Space Theory". The term defensible space is what Newman used to describe the semi – private spaces around peoples homes, for example, parks, small open spaces, courtyards, gardens etc. These spaces are often claimed by the residents and therefore they will act as they deem necessary to protect that area leading to a reduction of crime in general as there is a form of surveillance in action but petty crime such as vandalism will reduce significantly as the community care enough to prevent this from happening.

A boundary even as small as a picket fence on a garden clearly shows ownership of the space and is more likely to deterre a person from crossing that boundary. Newman further suggested that modern developments such as high rise blocks reduce the amount of defensible space and effectively depersonalise them leading to a lack of ownership thus creating a rise is crime and vandalism. Newman then went on to identify three reasons for why he believed that there was a lack of supervision in some urban developments, these included; the high rise apartment blocks having multiple entrances and exits, making it more difficult to create relationships between neighbours thus making it more difficult to monitor who was a stranger in the building so a criminal is unlikely to be identified, the open spaces between the buildings were not owned by the residents and therefore were not monitored making them more attractive to vandals and criminals and the open spaces between the tall buildings were often too narrow to allow effective supervision to take place.

Newman made some recommendations that he believed would increase the quantity of defensible space in modern urban developments, these were; introduce boundaries as this would encourage the residents to take ownership of semi-public spaces, placing windows in strategic places that would allow the residents to monitor the open spaces this would increase natural surveillance in the buildings and to build the new developments so that they were facing the street as this too is a natural form of surveillance and would encourage residents to see what was happening in and around the building and to place the new builds in a low crime area.

Newman backed up his theory when he looked at 100 housing estates in New York and found a negative correlation between the amount of defensible space and crime for example as defensible space decreased the crime rate increased and as the defensible space increased the crime rate decreased. These findings show that Newmans theory had substance to it but does not directly prove that defensible space actually creates a reduction in the crime rates. Newman only proposed the correlation between the two variables existed, he may have overlooked other variables such as whether the buildings in question housed people who were of a poorer status, whether the areas where these buildings were built were poverty stricken, whether there were a large number of children living in the buildings and if there were any activities available for the children to engage in.

The theories mentioned in this essay contribute greatly to the understanding of environmental crime prevention. We can see that some of the steps recommended have been taken and often work. Steps such as visual aids can be seen everyday for example; cctv, neighbourhood watch, house alarms and signs of dogs on premises. It is important to consider other factors such as family life and school life as a reason for criminality rather than just the environmental factor.